Paint can lead to some beautiful artwork and a more beautiful home. Yet, painting can also wreak havoc on clothes, potentially ruining them. While you might have a specific set of painting clothes set aside for those long days with the brush and roller (which we highly recommend having), there are also those times when paint might get on clothes you didn't intend to get dirty. For those instances, we are here for you. Whatever type of fabric and paint you are dealing with, the following guide and walkthrough will help you get it out with no traces left behind. From latex paint to acrylic paint, keep reading to learn how to remove paint stains from clothing.
What Type of Paint Is It?
Not all paints are alike. For example, removing some spilled watercolors will be a very different job than removing paint meant to treat industrial metal. Oil-based paints will often require different types of treatment, and picking the wrong method when working with paint can lead to disastrous consequences. Acrylic and latex paint have their own treatment requirements, too. Be sure to double-check the type of paint used when planning to remove it.
How Wet Is the Paint?
First off, if it is still wet, try to remove as much excess paint as possible using a damp, clean cloth or a paper towel. Try to dab instead of rubbing it in, and use caution on more delicate fabrics. Avoid scrubbing, as this will likely work the paint even further into the stained area.
Dried paints can be a little trickier. No matter what type of paint you are dealing with, you may wish to use a brush or something similar to scrub out as much of the paint as possible (taking care not to damage the clothing, of course). You may also be able to scrape off some of the paint using a butter knife. With delicate fabrics, this might not be an option, though tougher fabrics can probably handle the friction.
What Type of Garment Is It?
If the garment is color-safe, then things will be easier. If you can trust that your clothes will survive a trip through the washing machine, that might make the final steps simpler for you.
Conversely, clothes that won't go through the wash might require a bit more effort and care, or at least a bit more patience. Delicate fabrics may also be unable to withstand treatment using harsh removers, like nail polish remover or paint thinner.
If you have a delicate fabric, spot testing your stain removal method might be a good idea, preferably in an area no one will see. You might also want to do this on valuable items, as stains and paint problems vary depending on the type of paint and the intensity of the problem. Paint removal is tricky, and it never hurts to be extra cautious to prevent further damage to your clothing.
Again, with most of the methods below, we'll describe some general caveats and conditions for use.
4 Methods for Removing Wet and Dried Paint
Before just going ahead and picking one of the methods below, we strongly encourage you to go over each method to see which will be the best option.
RemovePaint Using Detergent
Using detergents (this might require either dish soap or laundry detergents) can be excellent when dealing with latex paints.
- Try to remove as much wet paint as possible. Make sure to use paper towels or clean rags to prevent further spread of the stain. Use a butter knife or spoon to gently scrape away as much dry paint as possible. Rinse with warm water and blot dry.
- Check to see if the garment is color-safe. If it is, use liquid dish detergent. If it is not, then use the proper laundry detergent or stain remover.
- Put the detergent directly on the stain. Don’t apply too much at first, but be sure to apply enough to create a lather. Use a small piece of liquidless laundry detergent sheets and place it directly on the stain. Apply water to begin to dissolve the detergent sheet.
- Use a clean cloth, sponge or the lightest of brushes to create a lather and hand wash the area. Remember to adjust the paper towels or cloths from step one as needed. Our reusable paper towels are also a great choice since they rinse and dry quickly to help clean up your next mess.
- After cleaning off as much as you can, launder the piece of clothing in warm water as usual. Do not add any additional clothes to the wash.
- If the stain persists, repeat the above steps as needed. It may require some continual effort, but the stain should eventually go away.
Remove Paint Using Baking Soda
Baking soda has limited uses in removing paint, but it can be the perfect solution in the right circumstances. For example, baking soda can remove paint stains from denim, especially if you act fast. Also, keep in mind that baking soda is a good choice for removing paint stains from carpeting as well.
- Apply baking soda and water to the area, or create a baking soda and water solution in a bowl and place the item of clothing (or the stained area) in it.
- Wait for the solution to settle. You might want to do other things while this is occurring. You can't rush it. Give the baking soda some time to work its magic.
- Remove the item and rinse or wash as usual. Note that this method might not be effective enough, and you may need to try something else afterward.
Use Paint Thinner, Turpentine or Acetone
In general, this method is best used when dealing with oil-based or acrylic paints. It will not be so effective on watercolors.
- Remove any wet paint using a dull knife, a spoon or whatever you think might work best.
- Turn the garment inside out and blot the area. Perhaps use paper towels or a dry cloth to help with this.
- Pour the removal chemical into a disposable container (an extra tub or small bucket might work). Paint thinner, turpentine, acetone (nail polish remover) and paint thinner are all options, but these solvents are hard on fabric. Alternatively, try something a bit gentler, like rubbing alcohol or hairspray. Be sure to do a spot test in an inconspicuous area before using any of these products on a large stain.
- Use a rag or cotton balls to soak up the chemical and then blot out the stain using it. For the most extreme cases, pour a tiny bit onto the spot and gently scrub at the stain to remove the paint.
- Now, try to dab away the removal chemical using fresh paper towels or rags. Try to get rid of as much as possible so that the chemicals do not damage your clothes or the surrounding area.
- Apply some appropriate laundry detergent to the spot and rub it in gently.
- Launder the item of clothing as usual. It should be free of any signs of paint by this point.
Note: All of these chemicals, or for the most part anything used to remove oil-based paints, can be toxic. Try to do this outdoors or with the windows open when possible. Try to keep air moving. We also strongly recommend you use protective gloves for every part of this process. If you’re unsure whether you can complete the process safely, do not attempt this cleaning technique.
Use a Dull Knife and Wet Cloth
This method is for patient DIY’ers, items with a tough surface and paints that dry on in their own layer. If you have something like a stiff leather jacket, denim or something similar, this might be the option for you. This is especially the case if you worry about the effects of chemicals and solutions on your item. You might have seen these items used already in several fixes, though not alone.
- Prepare a dull knife (such as a butter knife) to scrape away as much paint as possible.
- Apply a damp cloth or paper towel to the area to blot away as much paint as you can. You may also need to use an old toothbrush to gently scrub away some of the paint.
- Repeat, taking care not to spread the stain.
- Depending on the fabric and the depth of the stain, this might require a lot of work. In addition, it may not be viable if the stain is already set. In these cases, we recommend one of the other methods.
Sometimes Nothing Will Work Perfectly
With particularly sensitive clothes or the absolute worst paint stains, there is the matter of knowing when you might have to quit or get a professional to try (they have access to tools you probably don't). Getting rid of paint is a time-consuming process, and your time can be just as valuable as your clothes. Prepping a wash and letting clothes soak is one thing, but if you need to spend hours trying to fix the mess, sometimes you might want to let the mess win. A cheap t-shirt is usually not worth your whole day.
If you decide to seek professional assistance, consider taking the garment to a dry cleaner. Even if dry cleaning isn’t the appropriate solution, these laundry professionals may be able to tell you how to remove the stain.
There might also be times where you cannot do much to fix the issue as it's been too long. The paint might have effectively bonded with the clothing, or cleaning methods could ruin the clothing anyway. And in many cases, it simply isn’t possible to completely remove paint splatters from white cloth and light-colored apparel. Only you know your limits, but we do suggest using your judgment in these circumstances.
Here are a few other things you should take note of when removing paint from your clothes:
- Do everything in your power to keep the paint from spreading to other clothes or the rest of the fabric. A larger stain or spot is a more challenging spot to deal with.
- Act as quickly as possible, and do not delay trying to get the stain out if you notice it. In general, the longer the paint stays there, the tougher it will be to get out. If you hope to remove the stain, you may need to take a break from your painting project and start cleaning.
- If you are running your clothes through the wash at any point, wash the clothes individually or at least keep the clothes with paint separate from those which do not. While it is unlikely the paint will stain other clothes in small amounts, it's still best to be safe. Use warm water to help remove the stain.
- If you are leaving clothes to soak at any point, be patient and let them soak for the described time. Leave the item to soak in an area that is inaccessible to pets and small children, especially if using chemicals or solvents.
- Again, we would like to stress the importance of being safe if you work with something like turpentine, acetone or paint thinner. These chemicals are toxic, even in small amounts.
- Additionally, if you are working with clothing that contains acetate or triacetate, these chemicals could potentially melt the fabric. We would not recommend their use in this instance.
- Be careful about disposing of or draining the water, especially if a lot of paint is involved. Certain types of paint might not be good for your pipes and certainly cannot be good for the environment. Unless you are working with explicitly eco-friendly paint, be very careful about the disposal of your water.
Paint stains on clothing can be a real annoyance, but we hope these tips will help you if you find yourself with a splash or stain. Be sure to review everything carefully and double-check both the paint and the garment involved. Check the garment’s care label, too, for further guidance before starting. We wish you the best of luck, and may you return to painting (if you need to) quickly!